Painted in 1946, Composition is a bright and bustling picture, filled with colour and rhythm, that dates from the year of Fernand Léger's return to his native France, following his time in the United States of America during the Second World War. Coming back to his homeland, he was filled with optimism, and this has clearly translated itself into his painting: this abstract agglomeration of forms bursts with a sense of raw life. The strange forms that make up this composition appear only half rooted in the visual universe; while retaining some of the geometric discipline of Léger's earlier works, the picture is also infused with some of the lyricism of the Surrealism adopted by many of the artist's friends. Likewise, it deliberately has the visual impact of a poster, demonstrating Léger's interest in creating an art that was fuelled with immediacy, that was accessible to all.
It is a tribute to the importance of this painting that it was formerly in the collection of Carl Gemzell, a Swedish collector who was perhaps the world's most important pioneer of fertility treatments. Amongst the positions that he held, Professor Gemzell was the Professor Emeritus in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Uppsala University, Sweden. During his formidable career, he developed the first reliable pregnancy test in the 1950s, and went on to develop the 'Gemzell Method' of treating women through hormone therapy; this remains the basis for all infertility treatments used today, including in vitro fertilisation. In 1960, Professor Gemzell delivered healthy quadruplets, the first of many babies conceived using this method.
Already during the 1930s, when he was still a medical student, Professor Gemzell had sown the seeds of his impressive art collection, often buying works and paying for them in instalments. Gradually, this collection grew in size and stature: it is a telling indication of its quality that his gift in 2004 of pictures to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, an institution of which he had long been an enthusiastic supporter, was among the greatest donations in a generation. The Moderna Museet in Stockholm had also been the venue for an exhibition, almost a decade earlier, dedicated to his collection, featuring works by artists ranging from Albers and Arp to Calder and Kandinsky, from Klee and Laurens to Johns and Rauschenburg. The presence of Composition in his collection continued a long link between Léger and Scandinavia, and Sweden in particular; he had frequently visited the region, attending a one-man exhibition in Oslo as early as 1919, and he had several shows in Stockholm during his lifetime.